Welcome students Applied Simmonsology. In this series of courses, we will be analyzing the work of ESPN.com's Page 2 and Grantland writer, Bill Simmons (also known as "The Sports Guy"). Mr. Simmons is not traditionally a hockey writer, but instead, a writer on all things sports. He writes the same way we like to teach here at Duck U - from the fan perspective. I highly recommend visiting his websites.
In Simmons' 2009 book, The Book of Basketball, he covers everything basketball. In one chapter Simmons discusses what it takes to build a championship team, dubbed as "The Secret". Granted he breaks down this method as it relates to basketball, but in my reading, I believe that this can be applied to all sports. We are going to review each part of "The Secret" to show how it relates to hockey. We'll compare the 2007 Stanley Cup winning team to the the 2010-11 Ducks roster that couldn't get past the first round in terms of following each of "The Secret's" steps. This exercise is meant to expand your critical thinking skills by considering what is needed for the 2011-12 roster to get back to where they were in 2007.
"You build potential champions around one great player. He doesn't have to be a super-duper star or someone who can score at will, just someone that leads by example, kills himself on a daily basis, raises the competitive nature of his teammates, and lifts them to a better place."
2007 Team - Of all the parts required, this took the most thought. Do you give it to Chris Pronger? Pronger coming to Anaheim changed the identity of the team based solely on his reputation for being a nasty player. Did it make the Ducks better? Of course, but he had his faults. I have to believe that Scott Niedermayer fills this role. He's a quiet leader, always has been. He's never takes a shift off or make excuses. The team knows what he expects of them, and to be cliche, he'll put everything on the line for them.
2010-11 Team - This one is also a toss up. I wanted to give it to Saku Koivu, but he went silent in the playoffs. Then there is Teemu Selanne, but he can't "kill himself on a daily basis" because his 41 year old body can only take so much stress. I guess that leaves Corey Perry. His monster run in the second half made everybody play better because they had to keep up with is Midas Touch. But Corey Perry is Corey Perry. He fought when he was frustrated. He took some shifts off. There was a leadership vacuum on this team. Captain Getzlaf hasn't quite figured it out yet.
"You surround that superstar with one or two elite sidekicks who understand their place in the team's hierarchy, don't obsess over stats, and fill in every blank they can."
2007 Team - Now we get into Chris Pronger's area. Where Scotty brought finesse and composure, Prongs brought bone-crushing brutality. While Scotty was quietly leading, Pronger was kicking ass and taking names. He has never been afraid to run his mouth or call out teammates. Pronger was the missing piece that Anaheim needed to get them over the edge.
2010-11 Team - This one was a little more difficult. If I went for Corey Perry in Part 1, I would automatically assume that Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan would be the "elite" sidekicks. In reality, Corey played pretty well with about anyone, but I don't think he was even better because he was paired with particular players. Think about it, Getzlaf was gone for a chunk of the season, and Bobby was moved up, down, and sideways in the lineup. If I went with Teemu in Part 1, that would mean his sidekicks would be Koivu and Jason Blake. Koivu is a strong player, but not as elite as he once was. And come on, Jason Blake? He hasn't been elite since he signed that cap destroying contract. Part 2 is another gray area that the Ducks, but I look to all of the RPG line to contribute mightily to the Ducks success.
"From that framework, you compete your nucleus with top notch role players and/or character guys...who know their place, don't make mistakes, and won't threaten that unselfish culture, as well as coaching staff dedicated to keeping those team-ahead-of-individual values in place."
2007 Team - We talk about them all the time. The Grind Line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen exemplified this role each game. While they were capable of mistakes, they were often committing "good penalties" as opposed to bad ones. None of the three players were legitimate super stars (no matter how much you love Sammy Pahlsson), and have not competed at the same level since winning the Cup. As far as coaching, Randy Carlyle at this point was still new(ish). He commanded respect and the team agave that to him (winning helps a lot, too). He has always been one to not heap praise on individual players until their success was so great that it couldn't be avoided any longer. By doing this, he kept his players humble (save Chris Pronger).
2010-11 Team - Sure the team had role players, like George Parros the enforcer, and several good character guys (Todd Marchant being number one), but there weren't enough to change the attitudes in that locker room. It still hasn't clicked to Ryan Getzlaf that the pretty play is not necessarily the best play, and the team feeds off the captain's behavior. Knowing that they were the star players, RPG took some liberties during games where they didn't play their best and no one held them accountable (from what we could tell). When the team was struggling, it could be surmised Coach Carlyle took out his frustration on Bobby Ryan, more than any of the other players, by dropping him in the line-up or barking at the back of Ryan's head on the bench. Ryan would begin to temper his effort until he was brought back up to the top line - almost like he knew Carlyle would put him back there anyway in an effort to win the game. Scott Niedermayer was missed on the ice and in the locker room. The even-keeled captain kept the egos in check and reinforced the "team first" attitude. Go back and look at any of Scotty's interviews after losses. He doesn't call out anyone individually, but does put the team on notice. Getzlaf isn't there.
"You need to stay healthy in the playoffs and maybe catch one or two breaks."
2007 Team - Luckily for these Ducks, the major injuries incurred to Chris Pronger and Francois Beachemin were experienced early in the season, giving the men ample time to heal before the playoffs. Chris Kunitz had broken a bone in his arm, but came back in time to hoist the Cup. Jean-Sebastien Giguere experienced every parent's nightmare as his baby boy was born with medical issues, causing Jiggy to miss a significant portion of the playoffs. Without the stunning performance of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Ducks would not have survived to see Giguere return. What a break, indeed.
2010-11 Team - At Duck U, we always preach that depth wins championships. There is no way around it. The minute a player who is having a career year (Lubomir Visnovsky) gets hurt before the playoffs, his ability to go to that next level of competition is obviously hampered. Already down their number one goalie in Jonas Hiller, the team struggled to compensate for Lubo's injury, but the later revealed injuries of Toni Lydman and Matt Beleskey. And breaks were few and far between. Bobby Ryan's "skate stomp" was discovered by television analyst (and former Duck) Aaron Ward and Ryan was later suspended. Nashville and Anaheim carried on a war of words over flopping, which tended to leave the Ducks on the penalty kill more than the power play.
It seems simple to build a championship team, but really, there are so many factors at play. How much of it is outright building a winning team and how much is luck that they can work together? You can put all the skilled players in the world on one team, but unless they're willing to surrender their star status for the betterment of the team, you aren't going to win anything. Those that were the young kids on the 2007 team are now the organization's leadership. Do they remember what the veterans were like when they won the Cup? Better yet, are they still hungry to get back there?